PARKERSBURG -The numbers and the optimism are up at Parkersburg High School, where coach Don Reeves and approximately 60 players can't wait for the 2014 football season to get under way.
"Our numbers are better than last year,'' said Reeves, who begins his fifth season as Parkersburg's head coach. "We've got about 63 lockers and we've got 60 to 61 players. We should have a solid varsity/junior varsity team.''
Parkersburg, which finished 4-6 last year but won its final two games, lost some key skill position players to graduation, including two-year starting quarterback Aaron Roberts and leading rusher Chandler Hamilton, the state sprint champion.
Although those are tough losses to swallow, Reeves believes Parkersburg has replacements who can step in and play with competence and confidence. Senior Josh Trembly served as Roberts' backup a year ago, and now has inherited the quarterback position. At 6-foot, 190-pounds, he has the size and the ability to be a multiple threat, able to both throw the pass or run the ball.
Parkersburg is hoping to use the run to set up the pass. Replacing Hamilton as the feature running back is senior Corey Burdette, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior who battled shoulder injuries most of last season. This season, he's healthy and ready to carry the running load.
While Burdette will serve as Parkersburg's power back, seniors Dan Fox and Chase Shank will be the wingbacks. Fox is the fastest player on the Big Reds roster while Shank was Parkersburg's top tackler from a year ago and has a reputation for being the most competitive player to wear red and white.
If it's what's up front that counts -and it always is -then count the Big Reds as a playoff contender for the offensive line is strong. Senior Charley Conley - who is getting some Division 1 looks -has moved from tackle to center. Ben McFarland, who started last year as a freshman, has moved from tackle to guard. He's a three-sport athlete at Parkersburg.
Other linemen include a pair of 6-foot-5 behemoths in Jon Null and Chris Carroll and a pair of promising sophomores in Tyler White and Kyle Webb. Parkersburg's sophomore class is regarded as one of the more talented classes at the school in several years.
Senior Austin Life returns for another year as the starting tight end and will have some help from junior Tyler Greathouse, when PHS goes to a two tight end formation.
Wide receivers include senior Stephen Dailey and juniors Brandon Turner and Isiah Gossett.
Reeves is excited that all three starting linebackers from a year ago are back to anchor the defense in Burdette, Austin Life and Austin Brown. Greathouse and Null will serve as the ends with Taylor anchoring the line at nose guard, backed by promising sophomore Isaac Edman. Max Chefren and Kendall Leary are battling for the other end spot.
Other linebackers are sophomore Tyler Lawrentz and juniors John Staten and Noah Weaver.
Joining Shank at strong safety are juniors Nick Johnson and Jarrid Winters.
Cornerbacks are Fox, Corey Woodford, Trembly and Easton Martin, a member of the freshman team last year. Reeves also is looking at Huntington High transfer Terrence Taitt and Alex Lott, both juniors.
Josh Roney returns as the placekicker but PHS is having a difficult time replacing graduated all-state punter Kyle Foster, now a member of the University of Akron program. Fox and Ethan Airhart are the primary punting candidates.
Parkersburg will continue to play home games at Stadium Field, but only the pressbox side will be available for fans as the school side of the stadium has been condemned.
In addition to including games with local rivals Parkersburg South, Marietta and Warren, the schedule features seven Mountain State Athletic Conference games.